The Us-Versus-Them Mentality In 2008s Presidential Campaign Essay

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The graphic novel, Maus, by Art Spiegelman, tells the story of a Polish Jews memories of his experience during the Holocaust. Drawn as mice, the Jews have faced a variety of psychological warfare, including xenophobia, scapegoating, dehumanization, and us-vs. -them dichotomy where the terrible events of the Holocaust were justified. The Holocaust was one of the most terrible events in human history, and decades later, scholars from many branches of academia still strive to understand such a dark historical event. Unfortunately, aspects leading up to the Holocaust still exist in the world today.

While few current issues compare in magnitude to that of the Holocaust, such activities such as xenophobia, scapegoating, dehumanization, and divisive, dichotomous thought pervade populations everywhere. Although such negative sentiments always threaten negative results, in the US in the year 2008, one major historical movement and event occurred that promises a possible relief from such a divisive past. This historic movement and event is Barack Obamas campaign, in which an African American ran for President of the United States and was the victor, becoming the first ever African American president of the country.

But the campaign was not free of strife. This paper argues that while dichotomous, us vs. them elements in the year 2008s presidential campaign were not systematically acted out as they were in the Holocaust, there existed similar instances of that mentality during the campaign timeframe. In the past decade, partisanship has set two major groups of Americans at odds with each other in the form of Democrat vs. Republicans. However, this past presidential campaign, or even in the past decade, the fever pitch of us vs. them has not escaped many people, and Democrat or Republican began to be expressed in layers of differences.

Chuck Raasch of USAToday reports that: Americans fought a terrible civil war on all three fronts. A century later, Northerners saw Southerners as oppressors during struggles over civil rights, and Southerners viewed Northerners as meddlers. Even the Inside the Beltway label continues a deeply rooted, us-versus-them mentality of the nations capital. Despite the elevation of a black man and a white woman to the Democratic and Republican presidential tickets, respectively, the election of 2008 has played often to those divides.

In her article Unleashed, Palin Makes a Pit Bull Look Tame, Dana Milbank of the Washington Post describes the crowds response, [who were] waving thunder sticks and shouting abuse. Others hurled obscenities at a camera crew. One Palin supporter shouted a racial epithet at an African American sound man for a network and told him, Sit down, boy (p. A03). While divisive expressions such as these seem far away from the Holocaust, one must consider Peter Suedfelds words regarding the genesis of anti-Semitism in the time before the Holocaust:

Sherif et al. (1961/1988) demonstrated how leaders, by framing situations in terms of intergroup competition, can produce hostility and aggressive behaviour between component groups. We can see the workings of an ingrained us-vs-them mentality in experimental minimal groups (Tajfel et al. , 1971), which are composed in a completely arbitrary way and whose members never even meet each other (3). This explanation could very well describe the actions of leaders in political parties as well as group behaviors in response to leaders.

Sarah Palin could be seen to frame situations such that intergroup competition occurs, as it does in the Republican furor over the Democrate presidential candidate. Partisanship was not the only exhibition of us-versus-them behavior during the past year. Dedication to ones country came into question in which the concepts of American versus anti-American were introduced. According to Bob Lonsberry in his article Whats Wrong With a Marxist? , a person who is American is one who sees two irreconcilable extremes between Karl Marx and John Locke, and if a person takes into regard the writings of Karl Marx, then he or she is anti-American.

If an American is to be truly American, they must adopt similar ways of thinking in which Marxism, communist, and other similar ontological principles must be absolutely shunned because they repudiate everything America stands for. These sentiments before the Holocaust were similar. In place of anti-Americans were the Jews. Andre Minaeu writes: To the Nazis, all things seriously afflicting Germany and the Aryan race were ultimately Jewish or Jewish-inspired. In this sense, the Jewish people were the quintessential enemy of Nazi totalitarianism.

The latter elevated Jewry, so to speak, to the rank of an evil ontological principle against which struggle was to be universal (17). In this sense, anti-Americans are philosophically against everything Americans stand for and should be beaten politically, while Jews represented everything the Nazis stood for, which caused them to become an evil philosophical principle. No other dichotomy is more apparent in both Holocaust and the 2008 presidential campaign than ethnicity. The question of race”and ones ethnicity”became a large factor due to the mixed-race heritage of Barack Obama.

Historically, part of Obamas ethnicity had been under the awful yoke of slavery and then the struggle of civil rights. One can see this in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr: I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama¦ little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers (60). The question of Jewsishness”both an ethnicity as well as a belief system”was subject of life and death for six million people during World War II. Historically, Jews have also been slaves, and their ethnicity and religion have played a large role in their struggles in past centuries.

Paul Johnson explains this in his book The History of the Jews by quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an ex-prisoner of the Nazis: We have learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of those who are excluded, under suspicion, ill-treated, powerless, oppressed, and scorned, in short those who suffer (2). It is not a subtle expression in either of these two statements that the writers and speakers felt that their world was divided in groups, and they were the them in the phrase us-versus-them.

While the us-versus-them mentality might seem as if it would haunt human interaction for all time, there have always been historical figures who have sought to overcome the divisiveness by seeking common ground. Perhaps the most famous of those is Abraham Lincoln, who spoke these words: A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved ” I do not expect the house to fall ” but I do expect it will cease to be divided (Lincoln). Martin Luther King, Jr.

is another figure who sought to overcome injustice and inequality through nonviolent means. Current scholars are improving and applying techniques for nonviolent conflict resolution (Suedfeld 2006, p. 7). In regards to the Holocaust, there are many studies about the tragedy in many areas of study, from psychology to politics to sociology, as evidenced by the books The Making of the Holocaust: Ideology and Ethics in the Systems Perspective by Andre Mineau and Canadian Psychology addressing Holocaust reverberations fifty years later. Lastly, the end of the 2008 campaign year drew to a close, and Barack Obama has been elected President.

While he emerged from one of the two major political parties in the US, his own sentiments in his book The Audacity of Hope strive for a bipartisan rather than a divided approach: Maybe theres no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter the rules of engagement are futile. Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport¦ We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side¦ But I dont think so.

They are out there¦ those ordinary citizens who have grown up in the midst of all the political and cultural battles, but who have found a way¦ to make peace with their neighbors, and themselves (pp. 50-51). Violence stemmed from rabid divisiveness is what made the Holocaust so terrible. Therefore, any attempts to heal the us-versus-them mentality would have to be the opposite: peaceful actions that strive to bring humans together. Fortunately, if one could take lessons from Mahatma Ghandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama, then the possibility that discordant sentiments in the human populace may never take seed.


Johnson, Paul. A History of the Jews. HarperPerennial (1988). King, Jr. , Martin Luther. The Dream. Speech. Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC. 28 August 1963. Lincoln, Abraham. House Divided Speech. Speech. Springfield, Illinois, June 16, 1858. Milbank, Dana. Unleashed, Palin Makes a Pit Bull Look Tame. Washington Post. October 7, 2008: A03. Minaeu, Andre. The Making of the Holocaust: Ideology and Ethics in the Systems Perspective. Amsterdam; Atlanta, Georgea: Rodopi, 1999.

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